When one can detect a chill in the air and the excitement starts to build, friends and families know it is the perfect time to once again partake in that culinary coastal custom of the Lowcountry: the Oyster Roast.
Ecologically and traditionally, these gatherings are typically held most often during the winter months when the oysters are not spawning, and the taste of these plump creatures is at its best. This cultural institution has been happening for hundreds of years. Based on the number of blackened shells found along the coast, the American Indians were likely the earliest community to roast oysters in the South several centuries ago.
Planning an Oyster Roast?
Like every other tradition that is passed from generation to generation and family to family, there are many theories on how to prepare an oyster to perfection. The most popular methods and oyster roast recipes are roasting and steaming.
Steamers place the oysters on the grill and cover them with a wet burlap sack. The idea is to allow the heat to loosen the hinges of these bivalves. Then all that’s left to do is to pry open the shells and enjoy.
Grillers place the oysters on the grill, and in a few minutes the mollusks open naturally, which makes prying unnecessary. Whether you are of the griller or steamer clan, no matter how you prepare them, these delectable creatures can be devoured straight from the shell, doused with hot sauce or lemon juice, or accompanied by saltine crackers and melted butter or ketchup and mixed sweet pickles.
Begin with a bushel basket of oysters. A 10 quart bucket won't be quite enough for 6 or 8 people. Another piece of equipment that helps a lot is a small iron bar or a piece of pipe about an inch or two round and about 12 or 14 inches long. If a piece of iron isn't available a stout piece of stick will help. Oysters grow in beds on the mud or on old shell beds out in the creek. They are well fastened down and the edges are awfully sharp; so that is why the piece of iron. Use it to pry the oysters loose and do be careful of those sharp edges. A pair of heavy cottage gloves might help here. After you get the oysters together give them a good washing to get off the mud. It is easy to wash them while still in the creek, though it can be done under the spigot after you get back. The main thing is to get the mud off.
Now get the fire started. If some oak wood can be found, use that after you get the fire going. Oak makes grand hot coals without much smoke.
You will also need a rack to put the oysters on to cook. An iron grill about 2-1/2 feet by 5 feet, or a piece of sheet iron with some holes drilled in it will work fine. The frill should be fine enough in mesh so that the oysters won't fall through. Put the oysters in layers on the frill, not to thick, and place over the coals. Put some bricks at the corners to hold the grill up over the coals. Sometimes when the oysters start getting done the shells will start popping so look out for flying pieces of shell. When the mouths are well open, that is, when there is a crack in the shells, they are done.
There is another method of roasting oysters in which they are steamed. After they are on the rack, cover them with a wet bag. A burlap feed sack is the kind generally used. Wet the bag thoroughly and place it over the oysters. If the bag is kept wet it won't catch on fire and burn. That is, if there is just a good bed of coals and not too big a blaze. if there is just the family, and not too many oysters, they can be roasted in the oven. Wash them clean, put them in a pan, and into a hot oven. It may take a little longer this way, but it is nice just for the family especially on a rainy day.
The oysters are done now, so let's get them off the fire. Lift the rack off, holding it with heavy folds of paper, or cloth, and empty the oysters onto a table. Careful! They are plenty hot. Use some heavy cotton gloves, or pieces of paper to hold the oysters while you finish opening them. An old paring knife with a heavy blade, or a heavy blade on a pocket knife works well.